When we told people how long we planned to stay in Bangkok the response was an overwhelming ‘why!?’. We planned 7 nights as our first stop on our South East Asia adventure and we thought that wouldn’t be anywhere near enough time to see the best of what a city boasting some 8 million people has to offer. A lot of people seem to come here for 2 or 3 days, hit the main temples do a river cruise and head on their way to the famous beaches down south, even many locals told us one week is too long.
I get it. The city doesn’t have an enchanting beauty or charm absorbing the traveller like say a Paris or Rome. It’s dirty, it smells, and I could go on about the unrelenting heat for days! But what Bangkok does have is a gritty charm. Once you look past the temples and the tourist traps you see the friendly people who willing offer their time, advice and smiles and a city that slowly reveals its own brand of charm – but only if you can be bothered to look for it.
When we arrived in Bangkok the country was still reeling from the death of its beloved King. On our first day we went to the Grand Palace but were unable to get in as thousands of Thai people had travelled from their homes to pay their respects to the King, to witness such reverence and love for a non-elected figure was at first astonishing to my western eyes but as I watched and after talking to a few local people I was quietly humbled by the display of affection the Thai people have for a man who was by all accounts a great King and friend to the people of Thailand.
Our most amazing experiences in Bangkok have been the unexpected ones. The man who told us how he and his family had travelled from the north to Bangkok in order to pay their respects to their king, the lady who stopped for a friendly chat and offered us advice on her favourite parts of Thailand, but the best surprise was definitely the monks.
We had just been down to check out Khao San Rd, billed as the backpackers mecca where you can do any number of activities Thailand tourism is famous for, we’d been, we’d seen and since we didn’t feel like getting a tattoo or drinking cocktails by the bucket (though we’ll def come back for that one!) we went in search of some of the famous street food we’d heard could be found on Soi Rambuttri.
On our way we passed an unassuming temple, Wat Chana Songkhram, where we were accosted by people beckoning us in telling us to come and ‘witness a beautiful sight!’ At first we brushed them off, we were a little jaded from the relentless tuk tuk drivers and fortune tellers.
We did stop though and I’m so glad we did. We got talking to a lovely local fellow who told us all about the temple and then invites us inside for no fee as it was a special Buddhist day they just asked that we be respectful and take off our shoes, it was prayer time and visitors were permitted to watch. We took off our shoes expecting yet another temple experience but instead stepped inside a beautiful red, white and gold temple to the most uplifting and mesmerising sound. A large group of Buddhist Monks chanting in front of an alter. I don’t know how to describe the beauty of seeing that many monks chanting together in prayer, but it was a truly breathtaking moment, it wasn’t so much that we knew but that we felt we had witnessed something special. We stayed and watched until the chanting had finished and later learned from our new friend that the monks were praying for Buddha and for their King.
Up until this point I’ll admit Bangkok wasn’t really growing on me and that I thought perhaps the naysayers were right and one week might be too long but after being invited to witness this I know this city has many hidden secrets and gems, we just have to find them.